Astronaut touching down in city

Astronaut Alvin Drew works on some equipment outside of the International Space Station during February’s final flight of the space shuttle Discovery to the orbiting structure. - Photos courtesy of NASA
Astronaut Alvin Drew works on some equipment outside of the International Space Station during February’s final flight of the space shuttle Discovery to the orbiting structure.
— image credit: Photos courtesy of NASA

Above and beyond.

That’s always been astronaut Col. Alvin Drew’s call of duty in the NASA space program which has included a pair of voyages as a shuttle crew member.

At the end of this month the public will get an opportunity to find out exactly what it’s like to feel the power of lift off, floating weightless miles above the earth tethered to the outside of the International Space Station and the fiery re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

The mission specialist on Discovery’s final journey last February will be at the Cleland Theatre Wednesday, Aug. 31 to talk about those events and more during a special engagement organized by the city parks and rec department.

But despite spending several months travelling around the globe — albeit at a much lower altitude — the stop here is one he is especially excited about.

“I always look forward to coming back to Penticton. It’s a good place to visit, the pace of life here is a little bit different than anywhere else in the world,” said Drew, who spoke to a capacity audience here in the spring of 2010. “I really enjoyed my last speaking engagement (in Penticton). It was well received with lots of interesting questions from the audience. There’s a lot of interest in the space program here.”

He also credits the smoothness of his engagements locally for much of the enjoyment of being here.

“Bob Pope (recreation co-ordinator) and the other people over at the community centre do a really good job,” said Drew. “I do lots and lots of these things so I see the whole spectrum from good to bad and he’s (Pope) up there with the best of them in how he does that.

“It takes a lot of stress off me.”

According to Pope, having a speaker of this quality is a plus for the community, especially for the young people.

“What a role model for the kids,” said the rec co-ordinator. “It shows you can go for the dreams because here’s a guy who as a little kid watches the astronaut program on a black-and-white TV and decides that’s what he’s going to be. That’s why he fits in with us, it’s that you-can-do-anything-if-you-set-your-mind-to-it message.

“We’re calling this the Last Astronaut because it’s almost like a part two or a wrap up of the first presentation he did for us.”

During his recent speaking tour, Drew spent time in New Zealand and the United Kingdom where he had an opportunity to meet the prime minister.

Part of his message is that while the space shuttle program has officially come to an end, NASA will continue with the research and exploration end of the space business.

Drew pointed out much of the work involving manned space flight will be now be in the courts of the commercial sector.

He estimated that could become a reality anywhere in  the next five to 15 years.

“There’s no doubt in my mind a good number of them are going to fail, but even if one of them succeeds we’re going to have a revolution in how we work in space,” said the astronaut.

Tickets for the Penticton event, which begins at 6:30 p.m., are available at the Community Centre office and cost $5 for adults and $2 for children. Any remaining tickets will be $10 at the door.


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